Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vagueness in Descriptions of Evil

Often in Tolkien's work, some of the most frightening moments or characters are described only vaguely. The Ringwraiths, for example, are masked in black cloaks, but they are mostly a black void, the same can be basically true of Balrogs and other horrors. Sauron and Melkor, though they once had fair appearance, those seem to fade as quickly as they are mentioned. Even orcs are seen primarily as fragemented pieces of bodies (arms, necks, legs, etc.) Why did Tolkien make these descriptions as unspecific as he did? What impression do such vague desicriptions leave on the reader? Why or why not?


Fingolfin said...

One reason I think Tolkien did this (as I believe is the reason for many scary/evil beings in fictions) is that the human imagination will conjure up a much more scary image than a given depiction of the villain. The orc that I imagine in my head is likely to be fairly different than the image of the orc in someone else's mind (although the movies help to give everyone a common image of the evil being in question). The fear of the unknown is generally more powerful than any other fear.

Luthien said...

Just to refer to something that the presentation on the criticism of LOTR brought up - many critics (and some in our class, too) weren't too fond of this aspect of Tolkien's work - that the bad guys aren't really described and thus aren't that big of a threat. I'd have to agree to some extent, though that doesn't explain why Tolkien was vague in these descriptions.

I think it might have had something to do with his real-life view of evil - that evil is, in some way, the absence of anything natural, or that it is a twisted contortion or a grotesque piece of a natural, beautiful thing.

Miriel said...

I personally think that it is more powerful that Tolkien did not describe evil in that much detail, especially Sauron... because Sauron is a very mysterious and frightening being, and I don't think there would be an effective way to describe him. It is funny though, because Tolkien is famous for his very long descriptions of landscapes and people, yet he does not describe evil. And then characters like Gollum he creates such a vivid real description of who he is. My visions of the orcs and the evil side are also blurred with the movies, so it is hard for me to say whether or not the little descriptions work or don't work. But I strongly agree that Sauron should have a little description, in my view.

Aredhel said...

So I just posted about basically the same thing...about how I see Sauron as sort of a letdown - I'll just continue here!

I agree with Fingolfin that Tolkien really plays off of the fear of the unknown. And that works well for a lot of his villians, the Wringwraiths especially. However, the fact that Sauron did have a body at one time, and Tolkien depicts him as an eye in the LOTR make Sauron somewhat "known" but in my opinion not as terrifying as he should be.

Back to Dr. Donovan's prompt now...it's interesting how Evil is also characterized by being veiled or in shadow. Not only is everything evil not wholly described, it's also blurry and out of focus. This only serves to add to the vagueness of evil.

Theodred said...

I agree with Fingolfin. Fear of the unknown is very powerful, and the human imagination may conjure much more terrifying images if given vague descriptions and allowed to develop upon them than if given a fully detailed description. I also think Tolkien used vague descriptions in order to allow the readers to imagine their own images of the forces of evil, and to make the story that much more interesting for each individual reader.